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IMO: Ships violating new sulfur cap could be labeled ‘unseaworthy’

Feb 28, 2018 03:19 PM
A bulk carrier trails black smoke as it maneuvers out of Port St. Louis du Rhone in southern France. Up to 70,000 ships worldwide could be affected by the IMO’s 2020 mandate to cut sulfur in fuel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Courtesy Roberto Venturini/Flickr

A bulk carrier trails black smoke as it maneuvers out of Port St. Louis du Rhone in southern France. Up to 70,000 ships worldwide could be affected by the IMO’s 2020 mandate to cut sulfur in fuel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ships that don’t meet the International Maritime Organization’s upcoming requirement for using 0.5 percent sulfur fuel could be detained or even declared “unseaworthy,” an IMO official told participants at a November oil industry conference in Greece.

Edmund Hughes, technical officer in the Marine Environment Division, said that when the new requirement goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, as part of MARPOL Annex VI, vessels using noncompliant fuel could be subject to detention, which would make them “a high risk for future port state inspection decisions.” Also, a noncompliant ship could be considered unseaworthy, which would affect its charter party and also indemnity in the event of an insurance claim.

Because vessels operating in the North American Emission Control Area or in the U.S. Caribbean ECA are already required to use fuel with no more than 0.1 percent sulfur, the U.S. Coast Guard doesn’t expect to see many ships in violation of the 2020 IMO requirement, according to Mike Rand in the Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance. The current global limit for the sulfur content of ships’ fuel oil is 3.5 percent.

“The Coast Guard has seen good compliance with the 2015 0.1 percent sulfur cap and we intend to continue using the same process (for enforcement),” Rand said.

When a Coast Guard port state control officer finds a ship not using the required fuel in either ECA, the officer is likely to regard the ship as presenting an unreasonable threat to the environment.

“The (officer) will detain the ship in port until it obtains ECA-compliant fuel, thereby abating the potential harm to the environment,” Rand said.

Non-U.S.-flag vessels not in compliance are reported to their flag state administration and could be subject to additional scrutiny.

The IMO is holding industry discussions on procedures to ensure consistent implementation of the new standard, which Hughes said will enter into force “without any delay.” Talks are scheduled at a February session of the IMO’s Subcommittee on Pollution Prevention and Response and during a meeting of an intersessional working group later in 2018.

Shipowners have several options to address the new 0.5 percent requirement: continue to use high-sulfur fuel oil in conjunction with scrubbers or exhaust gas-cleaning systems, switch to low-sulfur fuel or switch to virtually sulfur-free liquefied natural gas.

Flag states and port states will have responsibility for enforcement and monitoring. Also, the bunkering industry will play a role in ensuring that high-sulfur fuel oil continues to be supplied to ships equipped with approved exhaust treatment systems.

The Coast Guard will maintain its system of self-reporting for compliance under the cap in 2020. Ships must obtain a bunker delivery note stating the sulfur content of the fuel oil they take on board. If the fuel does not meet the limit, the vessel must declare it to the Coast Guard as soon as possible via a fuel oil non-availability report.

“We encourage all vessels not in compliance with (the sulfur cap) to report it to the USCG prior to entering a U.S. ECA or as soon as the noncompliance occurs if the vessel is already in the ECA,” Rand said.

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